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Whenever I look at my dog, I think of champagne cream sauce.
And then, of course, what best goes under it. Why, sole (Dover) of course.
Why has poaching gone out of style? Does everything have to be grilled or à la Meunière? Do perfectly delicate scallops have to be as caramelized as a Tarte Tatin? The color of Crème Brûlée?
Courtesy Bon Appetit magazine
No, let the cream be the color it is, and whatever it is saucing, the same. This from the Internet: “Because sea scallops have a chewier texture, searing them in a hot skillet is the simplest, most effective cooking method to achieving a crisp exterior and tender, just-firm texture within.” If we are talking simple, why not take the most perfectly fresh scallops that have never seen a chemical bath, slice them very thinly, and dip each slice, into a lobster shellfish broth, shabu-shabu style. Doesn’t even have to be black truffled.
That’s the tyranny of crispy, the word itself not ever crisp. When did ‘y’ become a value, as in its better “crispy” than crisp? Menu baby talk has only clouded the view. No shouting with the poached, only calm assurance. OK, “creamy” might be acceptable. Sometimes. As in the food of French Normandy, and no better anyone to define its color than the genius of perfect taste who lived there, Christian Dior. Even his house is creamy.
Dior’s champagne cream sauce house was intense and direct inspiration for the Boston Beacon Hill Directoire-furnished apartment I inhabited as a Harvard Freshman. We called it “The Champagne Palace.” The champagne flowed, the candles stayed lighted, and the Piaf songs played on. There wasn’t much of a kitchen, but since my aunt continued to send recipes, we enjoyed a chicken in cream sauce most nights. The apartment was above the English consul general’s house, the site of constant cast parties, so there was a lot of impromptu cooking for actors and even Etonian sons and nephews at the small hours of the morning. Everything was the color of a Dior gown.
My aunt adored Dior. In her diaries I found this: “The news of Christian Dior’s death  only a year after our last dinner together in New York, has left me a bit shaken. It seems that he had gone to trim down at a Montecatini spa with his last companion, Jacques Benita, a Moroccan singer/dancer from the Solidor in Paris. On his first night at the spa he collapsed from a heart attack at the canasta table. Some, like the notorious Baron Alex de Rede, have just said that he was on top of it, and not alone. Perhaps, but I know it was fat that finally called him in after his devouring a whole foie gras with poached in Chateau d’Yquem. On the train from Paris the day before. In the days that one still could.” I guessed she meant find that one could find foie gras on a train’s menu. Let alone that wine, that was the last time I saw Christian, until years later in 1956 in New York restaurant with Alex and Tatiana Liberman. The night was incredibly hot. We could eat nothing except jellied turtle consommé, but Dior, despite a heart attack in 1947, passionately polished off a dish with oysters and foie gras. I knew he would head out to Times Square after dinner and chow down on five hot dogs, but tried not to think about it. Dior by this time had just met Jacques. All the ones before had quickly become just friends, putting the despairing Dior right back at the table or with fat little fingers scrambling into a box of chocolates, but Jacques had never curtailed Christian’s love of fat, and now a liver has killed his.”
After reading that I am feeling rather frail myself. After my lunch of goose liver braised in Sauternes. I think I may have to slip on my Charvet slippers, open a bottle of 1921 d’Yquem, and remember Christian.
Another favorite dish of Christian was eel poached in Dom Perignon. Now the sumptuously couture eels in the Moroccan fish market in Tangiers have been replaced with Dover soles. I would design my own fashionable dish, one that like Dior’s fashion “comes from a dream.” I would poach a 4-day old Dover in a fumet only just perfumed with white peaches and Dom Perignon. Then I would make a classic champagne sauce made from the bones of sole and some of the poaching liquid, and nap the boneless fish, dried of its excess moisture in unbleached Moroccan silk-weight wool, in one-inch stripes of the pale cream sauce. In the left-over spaces I would pour a reasonably thick black truffle butter sauce. No further design would be necessary or even wanted.
Christian, of course. Who would look more cheerful after a sole or two.
Stars Hot Dog
I have never been an addict of hot dogs, ballpark or not, fourth of July barbecue or not, but I did put one on the bar menu of my restaurant Stars in San Francisco. I had dreams of customers wanting a late-night dog after the symphony with a glass of champagne. The best dog at the time, and maybe still is since with a dog it is quality-dangerous to get too far from a NYC winter street corner dog stand, was Schaller & Weber on the Yorkville Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Nothing fancy. A good non-artisanal bun, buttered and toasted, a poached hotdog, out of its broth, and mustard. I could never stand French’s, but I know it might absolutely necessary to many. That’s it. I have been recently distracted by a recipe for a BLT hotdog, because BLT anything is fine with me.
Champagne Cream Sauce
Alex, a great friend of mine in NYC and one who knows her food without fashionable frills, loves sole when it’s Dover. She told me “As to cream and the color of cream, were I asked my choice would undoubtedly include Chez Georges’ sole with its ambrosial cream sauce.” That Paris restaurant adds minced parsley to the sauce. Many do. I don’t because it interferes with the color cream.
1 tablespoon Minced shallots
1 tablespoon Unsalted butter
1 cup/250 ml Champagne
½ cup/125 ml Fish-shellfish stock (mussels and clams make the best addition to the fish stock)
½ cup/125 ml Whipping cream
Ground white pepper
Sauté the shallots over a low heat in butter until softened. Add a little water and cover if and before they start to brown.
Add the champagne and simmer 10 minutes. Add the fish/shellfish stock and reduce by half.
Stir in the cream and simmer another 10 minutes or until the sauce, as the saying goes, coats the back of a spoon.
Poached Dover Sole for Two
1 ½ pound (750 gr) Dover sole, unskinned
4 tablespoons Salted butter
6 cups (1 ½ liters) Vegetable stock (court-bouillon)
Champagne cream sauce
Put the sole in a buttered pan large enough to just hold it. Pour the stock on top, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 12-15 minutes, lift the sole out and drain. Remove the dark skin and served covered with the sauce. Or removed the filets, discarding the backbone, and sauce the filets.
One can also use buttered parchment paper to put on top of the fish as a cover instead of buttering the pan. And you can cook the fish, keep the drained fish warm while you make the champagne sauce with the poaching liquid.
To that I would invite my champagne-cream-sauce-colored dog.
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